Spending Happily in Spain: What I Learned (and Loved)

During my break from Money Spruce, I was traveling in Spain for 10 days.  This was my second time in Europe, and it did not disappoint. There are many reasons to travel, but my favorite is to see how those in other countries live and do things differently than I do in my daily life.

These are some of my observations from Spain.  While they may or may not be new or remarkable to you, I found them intriguing.

1 – Tipping isn’t customary.  I know that there are different tipping customs in virtually every country, but it feels weird not to tip someone for their service.  However, no one really tips in Spain, so we only left small amounts at the places we ate at (and never tipped for drinks).  This made me think that we probably tip excessively at times in the U.S., but that’s probably more of a product of U.S. severs and bartenders that make an hourly wage of only a few dollars.

2 – Food is still expensive.  Especially if you dine for every meal, like we did.  This is probably a lesson for traveling in general, but we shelled out waaaay too much money on food.  A lot of it was great, but we also got sucked into some crummy tourist traps that were definitely not worth the money.  This is probably my only financial regret for the whole trip, and it wasn’t a huge deal anyway.

3 – Staying with locals is awesome – for both saving money and the experience. This was, by far, what I loved most about this trip.  For 7 of the 9 nights we were in Spain, we stayed for free with friends (or friends-of-friends).  They both had nice apartments, and it was far superior than staying in any sort of hostel.  But that’s not even the greatest benefit of all, which is: we learned, saw, and tried things we never would have without them.  While we sampled some great food in restaurants we picked from tour books, the best meal was one our host in Barcelona, Ana, prepared for us one night.  She also toured us around the city with ease and brought us to restaurants that were harder-to-find gems.  In Madrid, our other host, Natalia, took us to great places for Churros, vegetarian food, and drinks where locals actually hang out.  We had even another friend, Melissa, that we met up with Barcelona, and she helped us find even more fun things to do.  Without them, I’m sure our trip would’ve been totally different.

4 – If you’re an unmarried Spaniard and in your 20s, you live with your parents.  This was true for the majority of people my age that I met (and for many others, I was told).  The ones that didn’t live with parents were working or studying in a different city from where their parents lived. While I didn’t entirely get a firm grasp on the reason for this, it seemed to be the custom more than anything. While I’m sure many kids don’t enjoy this (just like I don’t – sorry, Mom), perhaps it’s a little different there since it’s the norm.

5 – Spain has economic problems, too.  Big ones.  But you wouldn’t really know it from just being there.  I can’t say I experienced anything because of this, but I had some questions after hearing about potential Spanish bank collapses on Planet Money.

6 – The supermarkets have a lot less variety.  The ones I went to were a fraction of the size of the ones here in the U.S.  To tell you the truth – I like it that way.  Personally, I shop at Trader Joe’s 99% of the time, and enjoy the lack of variety there, too.  I’m simply not convinced that having more “options” (or, really, just the same stuff in different packing) improves our life in any way.

7 – Greetings in Spain are much warmer than in the U.S. The whole cheek kissing thing was a bit weird to me at first, but I got used to it and actually kind of wished we did that in the U.S.  Seeing that this is the norm in Spain made me feel like we’re so cold and distant in the States, where everyone seems to value their personal space and that kissing someone you just met is too “weird.”  The standard U.S. greeting could certainly use an overhaul from something that isn’t so uptight and stuffy.

8 – Most people there speak English (and we should be speaking more Spanish in the U.S.) I hate the fact that most of the world is now at least bilingual, yet the U.S. always seems to lag behind.  The easiest way to make up for this would be to teach Spanish (or another language) starting in pre-school or kindergarten and place more emphasis on languages throughout our primary education.  It’s much harder to learn languages later in life.

9 – If we had planned better, we (probably) could’ve spent less money. I think we got at least a decent deal on flights ($600 round-trip to fly direct), but we only spent a few hours researching.  We also could’ve tried to get cheaper rates on the train but we probably booked too late for that.  Perhaps buses would’ve been cheaper, but we didn’t even consider that option. As I mentioned earlier, we definitely could’ve saved on food.  We didn’t cook any meals ourselves, even though we had access to kitchens.  We also could’ve settled for cheaper options from the supermarket for lunch rather than dining at cafes all the time. Oh well, lesson learned for next time.

Overall, it was an awesome trip, and I’d love to go back (and I could see myself living there, too). In case you were wondering, Barcelona was my favorite city, but Madrid and Sevilla were absolutely worth the visit, too.  It was an expensive trip, but definitely worth the cost to do it every couple of years (or more frequently, once I can afford it).  If you’ve been taking trips to boring-old Florida every year, definitely head to Europe instead.  It really doesn’t compare.


  1. Sounds like you had a great trip, Jeff!! Anytime you want to go back, I’m on board 😛 It sounds like you really learned a lot about Spanish culture in the short time there, too– you’re totally right about it being a “warmer” country than the US in terms of greeting people and physical affection.

Speak Your Mind


Read previous post:
9 Money Making Myths To Forget

It's great to be back after a fantastic trip to Spain! (more on that later this week) I've had a...